The allegedly “privacy-focused” search engine DuckDuckGo may not be as private as it claims, according to a recent report. According to researchers and eventually the CEO’s own admission, the site doesn’t block trackers from Microsoft, who provides much of the site’s search content.
Review Geek reports that DuckDuckGo has made a confidential search agreement with Microsoft in which the search engine will not block all Microsoft trackers. DuckDuckGo also only acknowledged the privacy issue after it was noticed by security researchers.
DuckDuckGo pulls the majority of its search results from other engines such as Microsoft’s Bing. DuckDuckGo has also previously warned that clicking a Microsoft-posted ad in DuckDuckGo will reveal your IP address to Microsoft Advertising Service, something which the search engine has noted in the past.
DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg, has been attempting to downplay the issue on Twitter, explaining that Microsoft cannot see what users search on DuckDuckGo but if you visit a website that contains Microsoft trackers, then your data is exposed to services such as Bing and LinkedIn.
This is a result of a partnership between DuckDuckGo and Microsoft called a “search syndication agreement.” In order to scrape search results from Bing, DuckDuckGo has to allow Microsoft to track certain information in its web browser.
Weinberg has stated that DuckDuckGo is “working tirelessly behind the scenes” to improve its deal with Microsoft and expects DuckDuckGo to “include more third-party Microsoft protection” in a future update.
This isn’t the first time that DuckDuckGo has appeared to go against its privacy-focused beliefs. In March, Weinberg announced that the company would be downranking “sites associated with disinformation,” which has been a popular tactic by Google for years to reduce user access to content it considers objectionable.
Weinberg tweeted about the decision, stating that it was an effort to reduce Russian disinformation online. “Like so many others I am sickened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the gigantic humanitarian crisis it continues to create. #StandWithUkraine️,” Weinberg stated, adding: “At DuckDuckGo, we’ve been rolling out search updates that down-rank sites associated with Russian disinformation.”
Weinberg went on to say that DuckDuckGo would also be placing news modules and information boxes at the top of certain search results to highlight “quality information for rapidly unfolding topics.” This was a method used by many search engines and social media sites during the coronavirus pandemic to push official government narratives and information — that regularly change drastically — to internet users.